THE Phoenix Fuel Masters padded their push for a top-four finish in the elimination round of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup with a hard-earned 103-97 victory over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters on Wednesday at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
Struggled to get their game going for much of the contest, the Fuel Masters showed strong resolve to stay within striking distance and made their move in the end to book the win, which improved them to 7-3, good for solo fourth and very much in contention for a top-four finish and the twice-to-beat advantage that goes with it in the quarterfinals.
Mark Borboran got Rain or Shine to a fast start, helping his team to a 9-1 advantage in the first two minutes of the first quarter.
Phoenix though would adjust and started to claw their way back, going on an 18-9 run in the next eight minutes to seize the lead, 19-18, with 2:13 left in the frame.
The Fuel Masters eventually completed the turnaround by holding a 27-21 lead after the first 12 minutes.
They took cue from their strong finish in the opening frame to start the second, extending their lead to 10 points, 37-27, by the 7:53 mark as Justin Chua made his presence felt on offense.
Led by James Yap and Chris Tiu, the Elasto Painters fashioned a charge back, coming to within three points, 47-44, with a little over three minutes left in the first half.
Rain or Shine regained the lead, 52-50, with 33 ticks left on a Yap basket before a triple from the former league most valuable player as time wound up pushed the Elasto Painters ahead some more, 55-50, at the break.
The Elasto Painters continued to pour it on the Fuel Masters, extending their lead to 16 points, 71-55, with 9:36 in the third period.
Phoenix made moves to try to catch up, coming to within eight points, 79-71, with a minute to go.
But Rain or Shine would survive the Fuel Masters’ rally, preserving a double-digit cushion, 84-74, with one quarter left to play.
Got some momentum to finish the third quarter, Phoenix came out of the fourth period with more bounce to its game.
It went on a 6-0 blast in the opening two minutes of the final period to cut Rain or Shine’s edge, 84-80.
Baskets by Mr. Yap and Maverick Ahanmisi after gave the Elasto Painters some breathing space.
But it proved to be short-lived as Phoenix kept pushing its way back.
The count stood at 89-88, and Rain or Shine ahead, with 5:28 left in the contest.
RJ Jazul and Jason Perkins conspired for five straight points for the Fuel Masters to overtake their foes, 93-90, after a minute.
The contest continued to be tight as it approached the last two minutes, with Phoenix up by a slim two-point margin, 95-93.
A triple from guard LA Revilla with 1:16 to go extended the Fuel Masters’ lead to five points, 98-93.
Rain or Shine plotted to narrow the gap, inching to within three points, 100-97, with 17 seconds left in the game.
It would not come any closer than that though as Phoenix went for the closeout after.
Calvin Abueva led Phoenix with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds with import Eugene Phelps finishing with 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists.
Matthew Wright had 17 points while Mr. Revilla added 13.
Rain or Shine (2-7), meanwhile, was paced by Mr. Tiu with 24 points followed by Mr. Yap with 14 points.
“Admittedly we did not play well in the opening half but we stepped up in the second half and just fought our way back,” said Mr. Abueva in the vernacular after the game. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo